Jason Burns’ most vivid memories of playing in the Babe Ruth World Series 10 years ago aren’t about the baseball at all.

“I remember hanging out with the guys,” Burns said. “We were housed in a really nice neighborhood, and my host family owned a bunch of John Deere dealerships. I remember riding all over the neighborhood on those John Deere Gators.”

We just passed the 10th anniversary of the Augusta Babe Ruth 13-15-year olds’ trip to the Babe Ruth World Series. After winning the New England title in front of a hometown crowd in Augusta, the team traveled to Andalusia, Alabama, for the eight-team World Series tournament. Many members of the team had come close to advancing to the World Series a few times before. As 11-year olds, some were on the team that finished as New England runner-up in the Little League regionals. The previous two years of Babe Ruth baseball saw Augusta reach the New England tournament, but fall short of the World Series goal.

This time, at home, Augusta beat a team from Worcester, Massachusetts, to set off the celebration.

“We’d kind of been building up to making a world series since we were 11 years old. To finally get there in our last year kind of validated what we were doing,” team member Jake Lachance said.

South Alabama in mid-August is God’s own pizza oven. I tagged along to cover Augusta’s run, and I still tell people it was the hottest place I’ve visited. When the doors opened at Fort Walton Beach (Florida) Airport, it was like opening an oven. The heat was a bully.

Before the team left Augusta, assistant coach Bob Lippert had the team practice in layers of sweatpants and sweatshirts to prepare for the heat they’d encounter in Alabama.

“Classic Coach Lippert move,” Burns said, “but it didn’t help.”

You don’t get used to that kind of heat. You hope you can tolerate it. Burns split the catching duties with TJ Vallee. No matter which of them was catching, the routine was the same. Come off the field, take off all the gear, sit down directly in front of the giant misting fan installed in each dugout, and drink as much as water as possible until it was time to either go to bat or back in the field.

A quick glance at data found at weatherunderground.com confirms the heat was not memory hyperbole. Temperatures reached the high 90s each day Augusta played, with a heat index often above 100. If the heat bothered Augusta, it didn’t show it. The players were excited to be playing ball on the large World Series stage.

“I think we were more excited than anything to prove what we could do, and that we were there to play,” Lachance said.

Augusta opened the tournament with a loss to Oahu, Hawaii. After a day off, Augusta turned heads around the ballfield at Lurleen Wallace Community College with a win over Nederland, Texas.

“That Texas win was really big for us. To beat a team from Texas is a big deal for a team from Maine,” Lachance said.

“Winning that game had a lot of people talking, that Maine might be able to win the tournament,” Burns said. “Obviously, that didn’t pan out.”

Subsequent losses to Mobile, Alabama, and Kelso, Washington eliminated Augusta after pool play. Bellmore, New York, a team Augusta did not face, went on to win the championship.

The Augusta players are in their mid-20s now and starting their adult lives, but the members of the 2007 Augusta 13-15 year old Babe Ruth team still remember that season fondly.

“Pretty much everyone on that team is still close friends,” said Lachance, who shares an apartment with former teammate Charlie Partridge. “We talk about back-in-the-day stuff.”

Some members of the team went on to play college baseball. Nick Grady and Forrest Chadwick had standout careers playing for the University of Southern Maine. Lachance, now a South Portland police officer, played one year of college baseball at Holy Cross. These days, he stays involved in the game as an assistant coach at South Portland High School.

“It’s been awesome to get back in the game,” Lachance said.

Burns said he coached some Little League while he was a student at the University of Maine. He works as a bridge engineer for HNTB Corporation. He recently bought a house. Like Lachance, Burns is still close to many of his teammates.

“We talk about it all the time. Anytime we go back to Augusta, it comes up,” Burns said. “I always say, it was one of the best summers of my life.”

For the 2007 Augusta Babe Ruth team, the heat of an Alabama summer has been replaced by the warmth of fond memories.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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